An activist for life: John Kerry’s long-standing dedication to the environment

(Source: U.S. Department of State)

The story of John Kerry, including his everlasting impact on the environment, can be defined in a series of victories and losses. Pushing himself back up whenever his journey faced turmoil allowed for Kerry to solidify himself as one of the most hardworking and dedicated pioneers of modern government.

More often than not, after a Presidential candidate loses the race to the White House, his or her name is lost in history. Despite being incredibly qualified for various other high-powered government positions, those in power and their constituents tend to only focus on the failed campaign, resulting in political blackballing. Abject from the Washington elite, ex-candidates fade into oblivion, their legacy cut short before it can even begin.

John Kerry almost became this after losing by a mere 35 Electoral College votes to President George H.W. Bush in 2004. How did Kerry avoid the common fate of so-called "failed" politicians? Through his genuine belief of representing the disenfranchised people of America, coupled with his unwavering anti-war agenda and policies that focused on promoting and addressing the evident problem of climate change, he became a politician with a platform unlike any other. This made him a frequently suggested name for government/cabinet positions, a man the American people could trust and follow, a leader who put the morally correct issues fairly first in his agenda.

It also made him a front-runner for the position of Secretary of State nearly 12 years after his Presidential race defeat, defying the status quo. He has since used his platform as Secretary of State to advocate for under-publicized beliefs not frequently explored by his predecessors. One of his areas of focus? Climate change.

In a speech given at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group Conference on Nov. 29, Kerry candidly addressed his journey as a vocal pro-environmental politician, the successes and defeats he encountered while holding the position of Secretary of State, and his unwavering frustration against the indecency of climate change deniers.

The former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been a steadfast supporter of environmental issues. In 1982, a year when most politicians disregarded the ever-growing impact of human harm on the environment in an attempt to disassociate from complicated issues, Kerry was bold enough to tackle his state’s acid rain problem.

In his speech at the foreign policy conference, Kerry talked about the challenges connecting the public to climate change. “It’s very hard to talk about the nature of the threat, which is existential, and get people to relate to it because it is so enormous and so big,” Kerry said. “… But the truth is that the acidification of the oceans coming from CO2 is changing the ecosystem – perhaps irreparably.” 

His efforts have earned him respect as one of the first public pioneers who fought on behalf of the environmentalist movement.

Addressing his recent visit to Antarctica, Kerry delved into the scientific data he was given. His revelations prompted worried looks and audible gasps from the audience.

Said Kerry: “… Scientists are extremely worried about the rate at which (melting of the ice caps) is surpassing what people even predicted. We just learned that in the Arctic, the North Pole was 36 degrees warmer than it has ever been recorded – now.”

Informing the people of harsh truths is something Kerry has excelled at in this speech – and throughout his whole career.

“So we can’t afford public people who ignore science. We can’t afford to simply turn our backs on these realities,” Kerry said “And climate change is literally a dire threat to our future security and to the prosperity of the planet.” This was one of many bold statements Kerry laid out in addressing how imminent the next administration’s focus on climate change is.

Again alluding to the 2016 election, Kerry reassuringly stated, “My friends, election outcomes matter, obviously. But the democratic process actually matters much, much more. And after the turmoil of the past few months, it is essential that we restore civility, honesty, and reasonableness, common sense, to the policy debates that we have in this country. We cannot survive if we are a fact-free nation…

"As Patrick Moynihan, my great colleague, said many times, 'Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.'”

This prompted many laughs from the audience.

Kerry understands that his role as the Secretary of State bears more than solely resolving territorial disputes and alleviating foreign issues on behalf of the United States. It’s also about advocating for the growing issues that arise with climate change, and spearheading several projects to help entice foreign governments to cooperate against a deteriorating world.

“The solution to climate change is energy policy, and we have solutions staring us in the face," Kerry said. "The question is: Are we going to make the decisions to use those solutions, or are we going to pretend that coal or some other fossil fuel is in fact cheaper when if you really take the costs of climate change, of dislocation, of refugees, of particulates in the air from dirty air, add it all up, kids who suffer from asthma during the summer and are hospitalized – that’s worth $55 billion a year in America.

"Just think of what the overall costs are of the real price of what we are dependent on today. We have to have honest cost accounting ... going forward.”

Kerry said green technology is the "greatest economic opportunity we face in the world today," so it's not a question of what we can afford. It's more about motivating countries to be interested in the future environmental health of their country – and the world. 

Plus, Kerry said, “Logic screams out to us that no country can plausibly claim to be a global leader if it fails to lead on climate change."

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